Photos and Review By Ryan Renger
The Blue Ridge Rock Fest leveled the Virginia International Raceway this past weekend. The "Biggest Rock Festival In America," with scheduled headliners of Five Finger Death Punch, Slipknot, Shinedown, and Pantera, although marred by many weather issues and cancellations, was still able to put on an amazing show for the two days that did happen. The anticipation and hopes for the 2023 edition of BRRF were extremely high, with promised fixes to many issues that have been the downfall of past years debuting this year. The build-up to this year's festival started all the way back at the start of last year's edition, with tickets going on sale on the first day of BRRF 2022. It seems that even with many issues over the past couple of years, the fixes that were put in place, plus a killer lineup, led to ticket sales that were higher than ever, with a sell-out for the entire weekend, with a reported daily attendance of 50,000!
Day 1 of the festival opened up on the ZYN stage with an explosive set from Michigan hard rockers Heartsick. There could not have been a better choice to open up a music festival. The band, especially lead singer Alfonso Civile, was highly energetic and interactive with the crowd, which caused the medium-sized crowd at the start of their set to turn into a huge one as more people made it through the gates and straight to the pit. In addition to festivalgoers joining the pit, so did Civile. Not even a minute into their first song, Derecho, Civile jumped through the crowd and started a circle pit, impressively still singing while getting pushed around by dozens of people. Heartsick is a rising force in the Metal scene, having opened now for multiple DWP festivals in addition to BRRF. They are making waves in the community.
Texas rockers Kingdom Collapse took to the Moster stage next to continue the trend of great up-and-coming bands playing the festival. Their set opened with the powerful single that they released in 2020, Uprise. Band members Jon Norris, David Work, Aaron Smith, and Eli Santuccii jumped all over the stage, showcasing a commanding stage presence that resembles veteran headline bands. Their set continued with more great songs, like their newest single, "NEVER BE LIKE YOU," before ending with Unbreakable. They were a highlight of the early morning and a breath of fresh air for those making their way through the festival as the heat raged on. I would highly recommend catching the band on their current U.S. tour, where they're opening for another amazing band, Fame On Fire.
During these early stages of the festival day, bands like Kingdom Of Giants, Caskets, and Deadlands opened up the Scary Monsters and Smartpunk Records Stages. These early mornings on the side stages are where the bands of the future are generally discovered and one of the best things about a festival the size of Blue Ridge. They provide the opportunity for younger bands to get in front of the fans that will carry them through their careers. It was also around this time that Mixi Demner and her ragtag group of Los Angeles rockers Stitched Up Heart took to the Zyn stage for a mixture of amazing music and cool visuals. Their use of smoke contributed to an atmosphere conducive to a great time. Although there were some early audio issues, Mixi pulled through and had an amazing vocal performance for the rest of their time on stage. Their set also led to a great opportunity for lunch at one of the many great food vendor options Blue Ridge brought in for this year's festival.
Over on the Monster stage, Adema took control and brought NuMetal to Virginia. The 23-year-old band sounded as young as ever, with Ryan Shuck, the vocalist for Adema since 2019, channeling the old-school Adema sound and bringing the fist-pumping to all of those watching. On the other side of the festival, Deathcore superstars Bodysnatcher brought thousands of headbangers to the Smartpunk stage to blast their ears off. The Florida-based band is relatively younger and appeals to a new generation of metalheads. Their style is a mix of everything that is great about Deathcore and is worth a listen, especially if you get a chance to check them out live when they go out in support of We Came As Romans starting in October.
Another young band, and probably the highlight of Day one, Vended, absolutely destroyed the Scary Monsters stage. Fronted by the son of Slipknot vocalist Corey Taylor, Griffin, and his fellow young hard rockers made their second appearance at BRRF and did not disappoint. Along with Taylor, Clown's son and Vended's drummer Simon, bassist Jeremiah Pugh, guitarists Connor Grodzicki and Cole Espeland command respect when they step on stage. Their blend of current Metalcore, along with old-school NuMetal, is the fresh take on what modern heavy music should be. They are a band that will be headlining stages in a matter of years and have the opportunity to not only open for Bullet For My Valentine on their upcoming tour but will also play a string of headline shows, including one in their hometown of Des Moines, Iowa.
The next hour of the festival featured a collection of very different music tastes across the grounds. On one side, you had a killer Metalcore band in Born Of Osiris, who have been picking up a lot of steam lately, especially in the wake of their 2021 album Angel Or Alien and their newly released single Torchbearer. While on the main stages, you had two washed-up lead singers struggling to play through the hits of their bands. It was sad to see Pearcy and Neil take up main stage slots from many deserving bands, especially Neil, who was bearly comprehensible and definitely should have stayed retired from both Motley Crue and music in general.
Around the time that The Ghost Inside took the stage, the early forming of storm clouds started scattering across the festival grounds. But, it didn't seem to bother the thousands of fans that gathered around the Monster stage, prepared to get rocked by Jonathan Vigil and TGI. Vigil's vocals sounded spot on, supported by the massive riffs of Chris Davis and Zach Johnson. In addition to the ferocious screams from Vigil, the clean vocals from Jim Riley serenaded the crowd, all while getting pounded on the face by the double bass from one of the best drummers in Metalcore, Andrew Tkaczyk. Their set included some of their best hits, like Engine 45, Pressure Point, and Outcast. They were another highlight of the festival and were one of the last bands that got to play a full set before the storms completely flooded the VIR. It was an unfortunate end to such a great day of music as a full-scale evacuation was ordered following massive storms that hit the festival grounds, including stages getting struck by lightning. Although performances like Five Finger Death Punch and Staind were canceled, I would say that people were still satisfied with the first day of music. Day 2 was only 12 hours away, and the rage from having a day canceled boiled up, which was gonna lead to a vicious day of headbanging.
Check out more photos from the day below: